Living in isolation can be deadly.

Research has linked social isolation and loneliness to higher risks for a variety of physical and mental conditions, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease and even death, according to the National Institute on Aging.

To reduce isolation among the elderly in our community, Volunteer Fox Cities has partnered with St. Paul Elder Services on ElderMatch Fox Cities. The program, which is funded in part by grants from United Way Fox Cities, Memorial Presbyterian Church and the Corporation for National and Community Service, matches community members with older adults living in their home. Outagamie County Aging & Disability Resource Center is looking to support ElderMatch by next year.

Volunteer Fox Cities has partnered with St. Paul Elder Services on Fox Cities ElderMatch.

This is how the program works: Volunteer Fox Cities recruits volunteers from the community and provides program orientation, screening and training. St. Paul Elder Services connects the volunteers with older adults who are interested in receiving increased companionship. There is no cost to the program.

Once the match is established, the volunteer visits the elder once a week or at least twice a month for a minimum of one hour per visit.

Keri Schreiter, director of outreach services) at St. Paul Elder Services, said the partnership ties in to their mission.

“St. Paul Elder Services is dedicated to enriching the life experience of those we serve,” she said. “It directly correlates with our core values of dignity, compassion, respect, hospitality and stewardship. We are both committed to serving the needs of others in the community.”

Carol Bloemer, director of the Retired & Senior Volunteer 55+ Program that is sponsored by Volunteer Fox Cities, said finding St. Paul Elder Services as a partner in the program was the perfect answer after a long term ElderMatch partner ended its involvement.

“St. Paul Elder Services has been developing its outreach program for several years,” Bloemer said. “Having a partner that can provide a full range of services if and when the need arises is critical to the success of this program. This is a great benefit to our aging population.”

Schreiter said ElderMatch provides many benefits.

“It offers older adults in the community a chance to form relationships and friendships, a time dedicated just for them to visit, share stories, or engage in an activity that they truly enjoy,” she said.

Schreiter explains the safety element in ElderMatch.

“This program provides a sense of safety, an extra set of eyes on the older adult that could possibly prevent a health crisis,” she said. “If services were warranted, St. Paul Elder Services could help identify needs and provide services, such as in-home personal care assistance, Meals on Wheels, transportation, foot and nail care, emergency response systems, therapy and much more.”

Bloemer also points out that many older adults have family members who do not live in the area.

“Having someone in the community who is connected to the older adult gives relatives an added dimension of security,” she said. “Over the years I have received calls from family members who are out of state and are looking for a volunteer to visit their parent. Offering ElderMatch through St. Paul Elder Services will give family members peace of mind.”

Bloemer said the long-term goal of ElderMatch is to include other members of the community who already are visiting and supporting the elderly.

“There are many faith communities that are reaching out to those who are isolated,” she said. “Some have little support in doing so. If we can provide support to that activity, we all win. A healthy community provides safe connections for everyone. We see ElderMatch as a part of the bigger effort to connect older adults living independently.”

People who would like to volunteer to visit an older adult can contact Carol or Jan at Volunteer Fox Cities: 920-832-9360 or rsvp@volunteerfoxcities.org. If you know a neighbor, relative or friend who could benefit from companionship in the ElderMatch program, contact Keri Schreiter at St. Paul Elder Services: 920-766-6020, ext. 189.